Friday, December 20, 2013

"Free speech" doesn't mean you can be an asshole without repercussions

Let's play a game I like to call "civics lesson."  This is where we discuss things that the general public should have learned in school in civics class, but apparently either forgot it or never learned it. 

Today's game centers around the First Amendment and specifically, the right to freedom of speech.  As you may have heard, some guy on that stupid show "Duck Dynasty" made some assy remarks about black people and gay people. Then he got suspended from the show. 

First of all, I don't care at all about that show or that guy. That show looks stupid as hell to me and I have less than zero interest in watching it.  The only reason I would even mention it in my blog is because it's caused so many people to say "But the TV network is violating his right to free speech by suspending him!" (I'm looking your way, Sarah Palin...)  Which is 1,000,000% wrong.  And it's driving me a little crazy, so I think we should discuss. 

This concept of "free speech" stems from the First Amendment.  You probably aren't as much of a nerd as I am and may not recall exactly what that says, so here's a refresher: 

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

So, that's a lot of shit it covers. (Sorry, this post is already excessively swear-wordy and I don't know why. I just have a case of the swears today, I guess).  It's got freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the right to assemble, and the right to petition to government to fix things.  So it's kind of an important amendment.

But, notice the first part of it, where it says, "CONGRESS shall make no LAW..."  That's important, too.  Because what the First Amendment really says is that the government can't punish you for your opinions and can't punish you for expressing those opinions.  That means if I want to stand on the street corner and tell everyone who passes by me that Duck Dynasty is the worst thing on television and I'd rather eat vomit than watch it, the government isn't allowed to make a law saying I can't say those things. 

However, that doesn't mean that I can go into a local store that sells Duck Dynasty merchandise, say those things, and not expect to get kicked out of the store.  The store can absolutely tell me to take my speech and cram it while I exit their establishment.  Because the store is not the government.  Ergo, just because the store tells me I can't say those things in their establishment and makes me either leave or shut up, that doesn't mean my freedom of speech has been violated.  

And guess what? A&E, the network that broadcasts that stupid show, is a business. A&E is not the government.  So, if A&E decides that, hey, maybe we don't want people on our network who are saying really hateful and insulting things about groups of people, then A&E gets to kick that person off the network.  And no, the person's right to free speech has not been violated. 

People apparently miss the entire first part of the language of the First Amendment, where is specifically says that Congress can't punish you for saying your assy opinions.  Anyone else can absolutely punish you for saying your assy opinions.  If I say something inflammatory, I can't just say, "Oh, free speech, you can't be mad at me, you can't punish me!" because that's not how it works. 

The bottom line is that this Duck Dynasty guy isn't suffering some kind of restriction on his right to free speech.  A&E isn't Congress.  A&E can do whatever the hell it wants when someone is saying things the network doesn't want associated with them.  If the government was going to throw this guy in jail for making those comments, then we'd be discussing the First Amendment and free speech.  Otherwise, we're just talking about a business's decision to suspend an employee who did something stupid in a very public way. 

So, in review: free speech doesn't equal "say whatever you want and no consequences can come from that."  Free speech does equal "the government can't make me stop saying things." 

Got it? 

Now, let's all stop saying "free speech" when it's not correct. And also, how about everyone stops watching that stupid show?  


  1. Anonymous12:39 AM

    I agree with your post, but I'm wondering what A&E was thinking when they signed up a fundamentalist's family for a show. Seems like it was only a matter of time before someone "slipped up."

  2. Sarah Palin said she fears her First Amendment rights may be threatened by "attacks" from reporters who suggest she is engaging in a negative campaign against Barack Obama.